On the Missing Racial History in Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac Magee
This Week on the NewberyTart Podcast
Each week on NewberyTart, Jennie and Marcy, two book-loving mamas (and a librarian and a bookseller, respectively), read and drink their way through the entire catalogue of Newbery books, and interview authors and illustrators along the way.
On this episode, Jennie and Marcy talk about the 1991 Newbery winner, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli.
From the episode:
Jennie: I think you’re hitting on something really important, the idea of not everything’s for white people to take. And to just walk in and be part of this family is very presumptuous in a lot of ways. I think it would be a different story if Maniac Magee were a different character. I feel like he comes in and he’s fulfilling a need in the family, and they’re fulfilling a need for him. That, to me, is very powerful—but I think there’s a little bit of a missed opportunity to go into what you’re saying. It’s not just sad that he’s being called a name and being singled out. There’s a lot to think about if you’re a white person going into a community of color, that you can’t just take and just fit in and be accepted, entrusted, immediately, because there’s a lot of history there.
Marcy: There is. And it’s interesting because they don’t go into the history in this book, but it’s so obvious that it’s there. I think that’s probably why they use it as a teaching tool so often in classrooms, because I think it would make a good segue into the history lessons about what happened to actual people, because you’re seeing the effects but you don’t see the cause.
Jerry Spinelli is the author of many immensely popular books for young readers, including Eggs, Stargirl, Space Station Seventh Grade, Newbery Honor Book Wringer, Newbery Award winner Maniac Magee, and the picture books Mama Seeton’s Whistle and I Can Be Anything! He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and fellow author, Eileen.